Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve
The icon of women’s education and a staunch advocate of women’s rights in Maharashtra
Dhondo Keshav Karve alias Maharshi Karve was born in Sherawali, a village in Ratnagiri district. His teacher Soman Guruji cultivated a fondness for social work in him. He completed his education up to the 3rd grade at Murud in Konkan, and took admission in the Robert Money High School in Mumbai for further education. He received a scholarship from the 5th to 7th grade. He started coaching while he was still in school, becoming renowned for coaching in mathematics. He ranked first in mathematics in the Bachelor of Arts exam in 1884. His teaching schedule would start from early in the morning at 4.30 am. On returning home, he would teach his wife Radhabai late into the night. After the demise of Radhabai, he decided that if he must remarry, then it would be with a widow. Accordingly, he married his friend Narharpant’s widowed sister, Godubai, who was a student of Pandita Ramabai’s Sharada Sadan, a school for widows.
In 1891, he started teaching mathematics in Fergusson College and continued teaching for the next twenty-three years. He established the Vidhawa Vivah Pratibandh Nivarak Mandali, a society to encourage widow remarriage. The interest received on the society’s fund, collected through donations, was used to financially help widows who wished to remarry. On 1st January, 1899 he founded the Anaath Balika Ashram (Hermitage for Orphaned Girls). This was later renamed as Hingane Stree Shikshan Sanstha, and finally as today’s Maharshi Karve Stree Shikshan Sanstha (Maharshi Karve Institute for Women’s Education). Karve constructed a small house at Hingane village near Pune in 1900 for the school and started his mission for women’s education from this house. He founded the Mahila Vidyalaya (Women’s School) in 1907. Here, women were taught such subjects like child development, health, home science etc. Karve later on modified the courses to match changing requirements and times. Reputed leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sawarkar and Pandit Nehru visited the institute and praised Karve for his efforts.
After his retirement from Fergusson College in 1914, he devoted all his time in developing the Mahila Vidyalaya. In 1916 he founded a university for women based on a Japanese model. This is considered to be the first University for women in India. Karve became the first Principal of a college affiliated to this university. In the next year, a teacher’s training college was added. This college was later named as Shrimati Nathibai Damodar Thackersi College. The medium of instruction in this college was Marathi. However, other specialized courses were also conducted like English, the language of knowledge, nurses training etc.
Deciding to give more attention towards educating women in rural areas, he founded the Maharashtra Gram Prathamik Shikshan Mandal (Society for elementary education in rural Maharashtra). In 1944 he started the Samataa Sangh (Forum for Equality) along with 300 like-minded colleagues, with the aim of bringing equality in society, and to put an end to such issues like untouchability. He had already founded the Nishkam Karmamath (Centre for voluntary service) to secure and train devoted volunteers to serve in institutes providing social service.
His work received special acclaim from such wise personalities like Albert Einstein, Madam Montessori and Ravindranath Tagore. The Banaras Hindu University felicitated him with an honorary degree in 1942. He was honoured with the title of PadmaVibhushan in 1955 and the BharatRatna in 1958 at the age of 100, by the Indian Government.
Maharshi Karve was also known in Maharashtra by the nickname Anna (Eldest Brother). Anna spent a dedicated lifetime of 105 years in social service.